Friday, February 25, 2011

Asian Noodles with Cucumbers, Peppers and a Basil Sauce

There's a restaurant chain in Israel called the Giraffe Noodle Bar. Years and years ago, before it was a chain, this place was where I went with my friends on the first time we ever went to Tel Aviv on our own, so it holds some memories for me. This dish appears on their menu as "The Malaysian Dish" and it's the dish I usuaully order when I go there. While there a multitude of noodle restaurants in my immediate area, I've never been to one that serves a dish similar to this one, and on certain days of the year I suddenly get a bizarre version of home-sickness in which I violently crave the flavors of this one noodle dish. This recipe is roughly the one that appears here, but made vegetarian and with a few changes to quantities because the quantities suggested in the recipe didn't quite add up for me.

Now, a few words about the dish itself.

First, it might seem weird to you that the cucumbers are stir fried. However, the trick to this (and in fact to the success of the entire dish), is to have all of the ingredients prepared ahead of time, and to cook the dish very very quickly on a high heat. This means that the cucumbers retain their crisp freshness and don't wilt away.

Second, unlike many Asian recipes that have very strong flavors, this one is a very mild, slightly creamy, laid-back kind of sauce. If you prefer a bit of a kick to your food, add some finely diced chili peppers to the veggies.

Finally,I'm not sure about the balance between the amount of protein and the amount of noodles in the original recipe, so I slightly changed it here, but do what works for you.

Asian Noodles with Cucumbers, Peppers and a Basil Sauce

Ingredients (for 2 very generous portions): 

-2.5 tbsp canola oil
-  200 grams (about 7 ounces) of uncooked stir fry noodles (you can use egg noodles, rice noodles or regular Chinese wheat noodles)
- 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
- about 150 grams (5 oz) of seitan or tofu, cut into strips. (You can play with these quantities, adding more or less protein as you prefer)
- 1/2 bell pepper (red or yellow), sliced into thin strips
- 1 small cucumber, unpeeled, sliced into thin strips (if you're in the US, try to get your hands on some mini-cukes, as they have much better flavor and texture. If you can't, then use about 1/3-1/2 of an English Hothouse cuke)
- 1/2 cup vegetable stock or broth
- 4 tbsp light or heavy cream
- 3 tbsp pesto sauce
- 3/4 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- handful of bean sprouts
- 1 small onion, sliced into thin strips
- For garnish: fresh basil, sliced; Roasted peanuts, chopped


1. Cook the noodles as per the manufacturer's instructions. Drain them and wash them in cold water to prevent sticking. Set aside.

2. Prepare the sauce ingredients: in one container mix together the veggie stock, cream, pesto, sugar, salt. Make sure that all of your ingredients are sliced and ready to go into the dish, as it is best to work quickly.

3. Heat the oil in a large wok and bring it to a fairly high temperature (you want the food to sizzle as it goes into the pan). Add the tofu/seitan, ginger, pepper and cucumber slices to the wok and stir fry for about 2 minutes.

4. Add the sauce you prepared and the onion and sprouts. Fry while stirring until the pesto is fully incorporated into the sauce. This should only take a moment.

5. Add the noodles to the wok and continue cooking just until the noodles are heated through. Plate the dish and garnish with fresh basil and peanuts.

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